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Gujan-Mestras (Municipality, Gironde, France)

Last modified: 2005-12-24 by ivan sache
Keywords: gironde | gujan-mestras |
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[Flag of Gujan-Mestras]

Municipal flag of Gujan-Mestras - Image by Ivan Sache, 29 August 2005

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Presentation of Gujan-Mestras

The municipality of Gujan-Mestras (17,996 inhabitants) is located on the Basin of Arcachon, a few kilometers east of Arcachon, c. 30 km south-west of Bordeaux.

Several Prehistoric artifacts have been found around the Basin of Arcachon, but only two stone axes from the Neolithic were found in Gujan-Mestras.
Nearly nothing is known on Gujan-Mestras in the Middle Ages. The area was very isolated and separated from Bordeaux, the capital city of Aquitaine, by wide marshes. A record of the Archbishopry of Bordeaux mentions in the the XIIIth century the Sanctus Exuperius' parish in Gujan. In the XIVth century, Gujan and several neighbouring domains in the country of Buch belonged to the famous Captal de Buch Jean III de Grailly, who led the Anglo-Navarrese troops in the battle of Cocherel in 1364. He was defeated by the even more famous Constable Bertrand Du Guesclin. After the battle of Castillon (1453), which ended the Hundred Years' War, Charles VII confiscated the domains and goods of the Captals de Buch because they had supported the English crown. Charles VII's son, Louis XI, amnestied the Captals, who were allowed to recover their domain. In 1468, Jean de Foix Candale recovered a very depopulated domain, and granted a baillette (privileges) to the three parishes of Gujan, La Teste and Cazaux, which constituted the Captalat de Buch. These rights were confirmed in 1535, 1550, 1604 and 1645. They were never abolished and often caused legal troubles: in 1793, the inhabitants of the Captalat claimed in a class action property rights over the whole forest. Most of these rights were indeed linked to the forest: the inhabitants were allowed to require pine wood for heating and building houses and boats, and to pick up dead wood and acorns.

In 1726, there were 1,500 inhabitants in the parish of Gujan. Most inhabitants lived from the sea (fishing and seafood picking) and the cultivated area was very small. The moors were used as pastures for sheep. The Captalat de Buch was suppressed after the French Revolution and divided into two municipalities, Gujan and La Teste, which included Cazaux.

There were in the past bathing resorts in Gujan and Mestras, but they could not compete with the neighbouring city of Arcachon and were closed in 1870 and 1920, respectively.
In the XIXth century, there were ten shipyards in Gujan, which made boats suitable for sailing in the Basin of Arcachon. The most common ship was the pinasse or tillole, made of local pine wood and used for fishing and oyster farming. Today, the Guy Couach shipyard is the first French yacht shipyard, whereas the historical shipyard Dubourdieu has specialized in traditional, local boats.
Sardines were (and are still) fished with specific nets (sardinières). In 1920, Mondiet set up in Gujan a fishing net factory which still exists. There were in the beginning of the XXth century seven sardine canneries (none of them has survived until now), 35 sardine fishing boats with 250 seamen. Sardine fishing ended in the 1950s.
Oyster-farming developed in the Basin of Arcachon at the end of the XIXth century. The former local gravette (Ostrea edulis) was replaced by Portuguese oysters (Gryphea angulata), initially introduced inadvertently by Portuguese ships and quickly imported deliberately. In 1971, the Portuguese oysters suppressed by a parasite were replaced by Japanese oysters (Ostrea gigas). Gujan-Mestras is today the oysters' capital city in the Basin of Arcachon, with 55% of the production (3,600 tons per year, 220 oyster-farmers, 130 boats, 280 ha of oyster beds). Most of the larvae used in European oyster-farming are bred in the Basin of Arcachon (580 tons per year).

Mestras was originally a borough of the municipality of Gujan. In the XIXth century, there were several conflicts between the two villages and the section of Mestras asked in 1864 to become an independent municipality. There was also a political problem, since Gujan was Bonapartist and Mestras Republican. Nothing happened until 1908, when Doctor Louis Bezian founded the rugby club Union Athlétique de Gujan-Mestras. On the war memorial of the First World War, there is no mention of the borough of origin of the 115 deads. However, when Mayor Jules Barat proposed on 17 August 1919 to rename the municipality Gujan-Mestras, the whole Municipal Council rejected the proposal. On 15 September 1935, Doctor Louis Bezian, then Mayor, presented again the proposal to the Municipal Council. It was accepted and a Decree from 24 March 1936 officialized the name of the municipality as Gujan-Mestras.

There were once vineyards in Gujan (not called Gujan-Mestras yet). The wine was of low quality but has given to the inhabitants of Gujan-Mestras their nicknamed of barbots. Barbot is the name given locally to coleopterous insects, especially a pest overwintering as larvae in the soil and feeding on the young grapevine leaves in spring. The main control measure against the barbots was the mandatory incineration of the leaves colonized by the insects and their eggs. However, the winegrowers from Gujan also asked the priest to conduct a procession through the vineyards as soon as they had detected the first insect outbreak. This is probably the reason why their neighbours from La Teste nicknamed them the barbots. The people from Gujan seem to have enjoyed the nickname and used a ladybug (not really a true barbot) as their emblem during a rugby match in La Teste in 1921. Since then, the ladybug has became the emblem of the city and is used for instance on the municipal coat of arms.

Source: Municipal website

Ivan Sache, 29 August 2005

Municipal flag of Gujan-Mestras

The municipal flag of Gujan-Mestras is vertically divided blue-green-blue. It can be seen on pictures taken during local events:

  • the inauguration of the athletics track in the municipal stadium on 7 May 2003 (Municipal website)
  • a tournament of figure skating on rollers (SPARF website)

Blue and green can be seen on the municipal logotype, which is a four-coloured puzzle. The four parts of the puzzle recall the four boroughs of the city; blue recalls the sea and green the forest; yellow recalls the sun and red the ladybug.

Ivan Sache & Pascal Vagnat, 29 August 2005